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Fulcrum of support

By HANY BESADA | China Daily Global | Updated: 2024-02-21 10:35
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China is playing a pivotal role in strengthening South-South cooperation

China's role and contribution to the expansion and strengthening of South-South cooperation have become increasingly prominent and multifaceted. China's strategic engagement in South-South cooperation marks a significant shift in the landscape of global development highlighting its role as a key player in fostering economic growth, sustainability and mutual benefit among developing countries.

China's engagement with the rest of the Global South, particularly through the Belt and Road Initiative, the Global Development Initiative and partnership with the Group of 77, underscores its commitment to working with other members of the Global South. This commitment is evidenced by its emphasis on aid, investment, trade and technology transfer aimed at fostering mutual development. China's approach to South-South cooperation is grounded in principles of mutual respect, equity and shared growth, with a focus on addressing the challenges of poverty, climate change and sustainable development.

China's collaborations in Asia, for example, demonstrate its significant influence and the strategic depth of its engagements with the Global South. Through investments and trade, China has become a vital partner for many Asian countries, helping to drive economic growth and infrastructure development in the region. However, this has also led to concerns regarding debt sustainability, environmental and labor standards, and the implications of economic dependency on China.

In its partnerships with G77 nations, China has advocated a tripartite proposition emphasizing independence, equity, justice, inclusiveness and win-win cooperation. This aligns with its broader strategy to leverage innovation, digital technology and green development to foster sustainable growth among developing countries. The commitment to technological inclusivity and the promotion of digital equality are central to ensuring that all countries benefit from the digital revolution.

The proposal to build a Digital Silk Road highlights China's dedication to advancing digital connectivity and fostering technological exchanges within the developing world. While this initiative promises to bridge digital divides, it also raises questions about digital sovereignty and potential technological dependency, necessitating a nuanced analysis of its impact on global digital inclusivity. For instance, in Africa, China's telecommunication company Huawei has partnered with local governments and companies to deploy 4G networks across the continent, significantly enhancing internet access and digital services. The East Africa Submarine Cable System (EASSy), a 10,000 kilometer submarine cable system deployed along the east and south coast of Africa, has been facilitated by Chinese technology and investment. This initiative offers countries high-speed internet connectivity, fostering digital inclusivity.

Through initiatives such as the China-FAO South-South Cooperation Programme, China has been instrumental in sharing agricultural expertise, enhancing food security, and improving agricultural productivity in partner countries. For example, China has dispatched over 1,000 experts and technicians to more than 25 countries, significantly improving agricultural productivity and food security. The triennial cooperation program between China and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations has a fund of $80 million, aimed at enhancing agricultural performance in developing countries. This illustrates China's commitment to sharing agricultural expertise and addressing global food security challenges.

China's engagement with the Global South also extends to environmental sustainability and climate action, with projects under the BRI emphasizing green development practices. China's green development projects under the initiative, such as the Solar Power Project in Malaysia, which is part of China's investment in renewable energy projects abroad, is worth noting. The project, with a capacity of 500 megawatts, contributes significantly to Malaysia's renewable energy targets. This example can help assess China's efforts toward its integrating environmental considerations into its cooperation with countries of the Global South.

Moreover, China's initiatives for cooperation with countries of the Global South extend beyond political and economic cooperation to include addressing global challenges such as the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change. The COVID-19 pandemic showcased China's role in health diplomacy, particularly through its provision of vaccines and medical supplies to developing countries. China provided over 2 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines in total to more than 100 countries and international organizations, including a significant donation to the COVAX facility, showcasing its role in health diplomacy.

China's commitment to fostering cultural and educational ties with countries of the Global South is evident through scholarship programs and the establishment of the Confucius Institutes and exchanges that contribute to mutual understanding and strengthen people-to-people connections. The establishment of the South-South Global Thinkers, a global coalition of think tank networks for South-South Cooperation, co-hosted by the UN Office for South-South Cooperation and the United Nations Development Programme, exemplifies China's role in facilitating knowledge exchanges and good practice sharing to tackle poverty and achieve sustainable development goals.

China's cooperation with countries of the Global South is closely linked to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals. The United Nations Development Programme notes the critical role of South-South cooperation in advancing global progress on the SDGs and has spoken highly of China's contribution through knowledge sharing, technical assistance, and support for climate adaptation and mitigation efforts.

However, the impact of China's efforts varies, and some critics point to challenges related to debt sustainability and the need for more transparent and equitable partnerships.

In light of such challenges and criticisms, it is crucial to adopt a set of policy recommendations aimed at enhancing the effectiveness, sustainability and equity of China's cooperation with countries of the Global South.

First, improving transparency and accountability mechanisms is essential to fostering trust and ensuring that the cooperation is conducted in an open and responsible manner. This includes the publication of project details, financial terms and impact assessments to allow for public scrutiny and stakeholder engagement.

Developing and adhering to sustainable debt practices is paramount to preventing financial overburdening of partner countries. This involves establishing clear guidelines for responsible borrowing and lending, ensuring that financial arrangements are aligned with the economic capacities and development goals of recipient countries.

Second, environmental safeguards must be strengthened to protect biodiversity and natural resources, incorporating rigorous impact assessments and sustainable development principles into project planning and implementation phases.

Third, promoting inclusive growth through South-South cooperation requires a concerted effort to ensure that development benefits are widely distributed, reaching marginalized and vulnerable populations. This entails a focus on capacity building, access to education and healthcare, alongside economic development projects to foster broader social and economic inclusion.

Last, enhancing cooperation on global health, particularly in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, demonstrates the importance of collaborative international efforts to address health crises. Strengthening health systems, sharing knowledge and resources, and ensuring equitable access to medical supplies and vaccines are critical components of a resilient global health architecture.

By addressing these challenges and implementing these policy recommendations, China's South-South cooperation initiatives can evolve toward more sustainable, equitable and mutually beneficial partnerships, contributing to the overarching goals of global development and cooperation.

In conclusion, China's role in South-South cooperation is multifaceted, offering opportunities for shared growth. While China's contributions have significantly boosted developing countries' development trajectories, there are challenges that need addressing. A balanced approach that considers the sustainability of debt, environmental protections, local empowerment and genuine mutual benefits is essential. As South-South cooperation continues to evolve, the global community must focus on ensuring that cooperation frameworks remain inclusive, equitable and aligned with the broader goals of sustainable development and global solidarity emphasizing the potential of China and its partners to advance global development objectives and contribute to a more interconnected and equitable world.

The author is a senior research fellow at the United Nations University-Institute for Natural Resources in Africa and a senior fellow at China Agriculture University's China Institute for South-South Cooperation in Agriculture. The author contributed this article to China Watch, a think tank powered by China Daily.

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily nor the institutions he represents.

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